Gramophone Dreams #3

Before I moved to the boat, I lived in a big old firehouse with a shiny brass pole and a red door. The fire engines were gone but it was still a boy-toy pilgrimage site. The first thing one noticed on entering was a red 356 Porsche coupe. Behind it was a black '32 Ford hot rod with a flat-head V8 and triple Strombergs. Behind that was a 1939 Lincoln convertible from some Godfather movie. On the second floor . . .

It was Saturday night, and I was making a soirée demonstration of some new tractrix horn loudspeakers driven by 5W single-ended amps. I had two turntables: a borrowed Linn Sondek LP12 with an Ittok arm and a Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge, and my own Denon DP-3000 with matching Denon DL-103 cartridge. Partway through my demo, I switched from the LP12 to the DP-3000.

Half of my audience got up and walked into the kitchen—not because they were hungry or thirsty, but because, to their minds, it was insane enough I was playing horns ("Can't you hear those horn colorations?") and a 5W amp ("There's no loudspeakers for those!"), but . . . a direct-drive turntable? These seasoned audiophiles knew better than to hang around for that kind of tomfoolery. "Can't you hear the cogging?" "What about that hunt-and-peck servo?" Frowns, wrinkled brows, mutterings. "All that motor noise . . . and, and it's made in Japan!"

My mad little protests were tiny compared to the decades-long chorus of audio reviewers and European turntable manufacturers telling audiophiles that direct-drive motor/platter/servo assemblies produce mechanical noise—chattering—that corrupts the still, black silences of the recording. They said that the servo violated the musical flow. I say that's all bunk.

In my view, high-end audio is not now, and never really was, about creating or assessing gear with the sound of live music as a reference. It's about manufacturers, engineers, and journalists (like me) talking self-serving, evangelistic, messianic crap. (Hold on—someone just threw a rock through my window.) Audio is really about staunchly held beliefs; most people can't remember where they got those beliefs, or why they believe them. Forget analog vs digital or tubes vs solid-state; the most pervasive and poorly considered belief of all is that only belt-drive turntables are worthy of audiophile consideration.

Had any of those believers ever actually compared a direct-drive, rim-drive, or idler-drive turntable to their belt-driven model, they'd have realized that each of these technologies presents music with varying amounts of force, weight, and forward momentum. A human voice, an electric guitar, or a piano—all sound more or less real with the best of each type. But do you know which type best reproduces the scale, impact, and dynamic presence of live music? Direct drive.

Don't believe me? Be brave and try Pioneer's PLX-1000 direct-drive record player, introduced in August 2014 (footnote 1). It costs only $699, complete with tonearm. But be forewarned: The PLX-1000 has no audiophile approval rating. If you require an audiophile-endorsed direct-drive, you'll have to spend a little more and try the Brinkmann Audio Bardo ($9490 without arm), or the Grand Prix Audio Monaco ($19,500 without arm), or the truly unassailable VPI Classic Direct Drive ($30,000 with arm)—all of which have been reviewed in Stereophile.

A little backstory . . .
One fun night in 1968, at New York City's Salvation II nightclub, MC Francis Grasso put on a pair of headphones and, using his Thorens TD 124 turntable, began "slip-cueing" and "beat-matching" one dance record into another. The DJ revolution had begun.

In 1969, in an attempt to break into the radio broadcast market, Technics introduced the first direct-drive turntable, the SP-10. The following year, Technics added the beautiful SL-1100. DJs gravitated to both models because their rugged high-torque motors allowed almost instant pushbutton startup of a pre-cued musical selection. Sensing even larger potentials in the professional and consumer markets, in 1972 Technics introduced the SL-1200, and in 1978 the much-improved SL-1200MK2.

In 1972, most hi-fi enthusiasts were using the Dual 1019, the AR XA, or the more upscale Thorens TD 150 belt-drive tables. That same year, Ivor Tiefenbrun introduced the now legendary Linn Sondek LP12. If I remember correctly, in 1972, Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt, was using an idler-drive Garrard 301 in his reference system—just as our venerable Editor at Large, Art Dudley, uses now.

Despite strong protests, Technics discontinued the SL-1200MK2 in 2010. During its 38-year life, the SL-1200 completely dominated the broadcast, DJ, and turntablist markets. More than 3 million were sold, but only a few audiophiles ever gave it a thought.

Pioneer's new PLX-1000 was engineered to fill the still-significant need for a professional-quality turntable designed for playing records in clubs, and durable enough to be hauled around in the back of a van and dropped on the ground. The PLX-1000 looks and is laid out like the iconic Technics machine. Why? Because Pioneer correctly assumed that seasoned DJs would want a 'table that "fell into the hands" like the pro-quality tool they'd been using for decades.

Pioneer has made a few subtle but (I think) important improvements over the SL-1200MK2. They've made the PLX-1000's power cord detachable. They've added gold-plated RCA jacks and a sturdy ground-wire post, instead of the Technics's captive cables. (Who likes schlepping a turntable with a bunch of dangling wires?) Hoping for even quieter playback, Pioneer has added 1.15 lbs' worth of damping to the plinth and rubber-damped the tonearm. (The PLX-1000 weighs 28.9 lbs) The new three-phase, brushless DC motor has more than twice the torque of the old Technics motor. Startup time is 0.3 second! (It was 0.7s for the Technics.)

Pioneer has changed the red lights to blue, and added a little well at the back to store a second headshell with cartridge. And as a sort of personal touch, Pioneer has replaced the Technics's square on/off button with a more elegant, blue-lit, round one.

With the PLX-1000's platter removed, I could see that its motor mounts and interior construction were completely different from (but possibly sturdier and more serviceable than) those of the venerable Technics machine. Musically and mechanically, the new PLX-1000 seems more heavy-duty and sure-footed than the vintage, near-mint SL-1200MK2 I borrowed for comparisons.

Like the SL-1200, the PLX-1000 was engineered for putting on and taking off records, and using it was akin to driving a good sports car. Everything "handled" with assurance. Installing and aligning the cartridge, setting the vertical tracking force (VTF) and antiskate force, and especially setting the vertical tracking angle (VTA), were easier and more stress-free than with any other analog front-end I've used. This is the only turntable I know of that is designed to let you change records in complete darkness.

In honor of the Pioneer PLX-1000's roots, I began my review with some first-class electropunk dance music from New York's own Fischerspooner. I played the 45rpm remix (Junkie XL) of their 2002 hit, "Emerge" (Capital Y 7243 8 77886), using a Shure M44-7 cartridge. This DJ cartridge has been popular for so long because it's indestructible, and plays music with agile and muscular authority. The combo of PLX-1000 and M44-7 played the Fischerspooner and every EDM disc I tried with athletic, fast-moving bass, sweet but rolled-off highs, and that weighty, stimulating midrange energy that opens people's eyes, penetrates their bloodstreams, and gets 'em up and out on the dance floor. Unfortunately, the average audiophile is not likely to appreciate the strong points of the venerable Shure M44-7, a keep-the-line-moving, feel-good kind of cartridge. Those of you with fancy moving-coils will likely find it unsubtle, unrefined, and lacking in tonal purity. I would, of course, have no choice but to agree.

Footnote 1: Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc., 1925 E. Dominguez Street, Long Beach, CA 90810. Tel: (800) 421-1404. Fax: (310) 952-2990. Web:

volvic's picture

I gave the Pioneer's arm bearings a quick check and discovered they were way loose. Turntable guru Mike Trei was in the house, so I let him do the honors; in short order we fine-tuned and triple-checked the bearings on the Pioneer -

How was this done?

jmsent's picture

complete with a a half gimbal carrier for the horizontal bearing, an outer locknut, and a screw type needle bearing. Loosen the lock nut on the outside, slowly tighten the screw while rocking the arm at the bearing back and forth to feel for play. Tighten until all perceptible play is gone, hold the screw in place with your screwdriver while tightening the outer locknut. Check arm movement for friction. Should move absolutely freely with no binding in vertical and horizontal. If necessary, readjust. This is something we did as routine when repairing Dual TT's back in the '70s. It takes a degree of "mechanical feel" to get it right, but it's not rocket science.

rtrt's picture

Thanks for the description JM.

Ideally i'd like to take a look at some video/pictures showing how to perform this task.

Any pointers to something useful out there on the web?

volvic's picture

Hello JM, just curious if any special tools are needed to loosen the tonearm lock nut.

jmsent's picture

Usually the outer lock nut has a couple slots in it where you can insert the ends of a pair of small needle nose pliers. You turn that counterclockwise. Then you adjust the play with the internal screw which should now be loose. Re-tighten the lock nut with the needle nose while holding the adjustment in place.

volvic's picture

most helpful.

deckeda's picture

Stanton ST-150, Reloop RP-6000/7000/8000, AT-LP1240 ... they share the same "Super OEM" motor and basic design with this Pioneer, if Craigslist is all out of $350 1200's in your area. Of course the devil's in the details.

Origin Live is one of a few companies who make "audiophile" upgrades for the 1200 ... it would be interesting to know if any of these others could also be tweaked.

Especially when review samples arrive with loose tonearm bearings!

And I don't mean for the above to appear snarky. I enjoyed the review, love reading Herb and as a terminally BROKE audiophile it's gratifying to read that a cheaper, "DJ" deck can in some ways outgun a more expensive one. Just need a little more info, is all.

blownsi's picture

I have a fully modded KABUSA Technics 1200 & a stock VPI Traveler (version 2). The VPI is better in every way to my ears.

g.kolbeck's picture

Having grown up using the two red suitcase record players handed down to me from my older twin brothers (it was great, I got two of everything they didn't want!) to play my Monkees and random records (all hand me downs from my two older sisters and oldest brother), I graduated to hand me down Panasonic stereo "systems" that all consisted of an AM/FM receiver with a built in turntable on top and two tiny speakers in some weird 1970's design, (the completely round ones I remember the most) All the systems I had from then on were still just low end junk from Technics,Sony and JVC and I never did get a good set of speakers... at least not anything that sounded as good as my friends JC Penny system! My system today is made up of stuff that was being thrown away. A set of SANYO speakers model SS-540 and a set of Pioneer speakers model CS-99 (these speakers were both out for trash collection when I got them... the Pioneers sat under the Sanyos for ten years before I hooked them up last year to see if they worked... they are still working jut great!) The receiver is a Sony home theater monstrosity model STR-K502P that I have set on two channel stereo flat EQ (no sound field) I don't know what the wattage is, but it seems to be very loud... playing a cd through it using the Pioneer speakers has been a big improvement for me. I have a JVC dubbing cassette deck that is dying from old age (model TD-W354), a Sony CD recorder model RCD-W500C (with only the single recording/playing side working) I actually bought those two items new. Last but not least a mint condition Technics turntable model SL-QD22 (?) given to me when two friends got married and switched over to cd's in the early 90's! They actually gave me two of the exact same model that were pretty much unused, I also use this system to play sound from a VCR machine for concert films. I guess it's time for an upgrade, but this junkyard system has been a big improvement over the red suitcase systems!

David Mansell's picture

I have to agree with Herb Reichert about the misplaced denigration of Japanese direct drive turntables, particularly by the British hi-fi press (nostra maxima culpa, I am a Brit). I started my hi-fi trip in the 70s with a Rega 3 and graduated to a Roksan (I missed out on Linn because of the excessive hype). Then one day I went to audition a Grado cartridge a fellow audiophile was selling (Signature 6, I think) and heard a Garrard 401 for the first time. Sell the Roksan, over to idler drive. Since then have acquired a Garrard 301, a Thorens 124, Thorens 135. Did improvements to the Garrard, new stainless steel thrust bearing for the spindle ; for the Thorens a new thrust bearing for the motor, and so on.
Then a couple of months ago, on a whim, having seen good reports on the Technics direct drives in the hi-fi press, I bought a Denon DP37F on eBay for about £120 all in to see what the fuss was about. Inserted it in the system and was blown away by the improvement over the Garrard, another octave of bass, better transients, better soundstage with stereo. I don't know how much this was down to the direct-drive motor and how much to the "dynamic servo tracer" (is that right?) micro-processor-controlled tone-arm, which will track badly-warped discs that other turntables give up straightaway. All this and it's automated too, just press the button and go. Enough said.

kelven's picture

It is nice to see a budget priced rig receive such high praise.
Unfortunately, the closing paragraph has either a glaring typo, or Herb owns a product I never knew existed: a 30,000 dollar cartridge!?

clydeslyde's picture

I just bought a N.O.S. Citronic PD-2s turntable. The PD-2s is a manual 3-speed direct-drive turntable from England. It was fun opening the carton, assembling the TT, and balancing the tonearm--felt like Christmas morning! It was intended for the British market so the voltage selector switch (located under the platter) will need to be switched to "115" (from "230") and the British 3-prong power cord will need to be replaced for U.S. playback. A Stanton 505 cartridge is pre-installed on the headshell (which I replaced with an Audio Technica DR500LC). There does not seem to be much information on this TT--except that it is popular with DJs in the UK--but I will say that this is an EXCELLENT record player. The PD-2s looks attractive, and feels well-built and fairly solid (it weighs 22 lbs). Curious to know how this turntable compares with the Pioneer PLX-1000 that Herb Reichert reviewed in STEREOPHILE.

Christian Goergen's picture

Dear Mr. Reichert, the Internet pages didn't offer sufficient informations. Do the mentioned alternative styluses fit into the body of the cartridge?
Thanks for your answer (I strongly intend to follow your proposed path to the pioneer-Shure-mani near to nirvana)
Pps: did you use interconnects, that are comparable to the budget of the main components?

Preddy's picture

Hi Herb,

First of all many thanks for this article, helped me a lot in selecting my back-to-analog-music turntable. I got myself PLX1000 and for the moment have Ortofon 2M Blue and Concorde Pro S. As soon as budget available for expansion, will probably get myself the 2M Black. All supported with Yamaha RX-V3800 receiver (yup, I know, not by high standards of Audiophile, but is majestic piece of all-arounder that I need and what my budget could support) and set of 5 off JAMO speakers E6 series.

Am reading your posts almost religiously and really enjoy them. Please keep them coming!

Have one question for you: lot was written about what good turntable systems should do and how they work, but that is only "consequence" part of the story of the vinyl. Meaning: all this turntable systems are trying to replicate the original source signal recorded on the vinyl. but, what is the guarantee that recording device was accurate (while making vinyl) when replicating reality in studio or wherever the recording took place? Hope that the question is clear?

JRCD's picture

There is a store on Ebay that sells wood bodies to improve Shure cartridges, also for Denon and Audio Technica, but the commenting application does not allow me to put the address.
Please do a search on Ebay for 'Exclusive Wooden body for Shure' and you will find it, is very interesting.
In the text you say that it does not support the Shure M44-7 more than one day, for listening at home is better the M44G, it is sweeter.

DougM's picture

In the seventies when we rockers could afford our first good audio system we much preferred the lively, dynamic sound of a good Pioneer or Technics direct drive table with a good MM cartridge (think Shure V15, Stanton 681EEE, Pickering XSV3000, Empire, AT, or my favorites- ADC XLM MKIII and ZLM) to the bland sound of a Dual or AR and MC cart, just as we preferred JBL, Cerwin-Vega, M&K and Klipsch to the bland AR and Allison and similar speakers. It's good to see the rest of the world catching up, as the good loudspeakers today seem to be closer to the sound of the best balanced CVs, JBLs, and the like to the soft east coast sound.

JRCD's picture

A question. The problem with all these record players seems to be the tonearm, it is what most limits their sound quality, To the Technics SL-1200/1210 can be changed, and often does. Is it also possible to change it in the PLX-1000? For example, for something good and economical like a Rega RB220 or an Origin Live Alliance.

SystemShock's picture

Despite Herb's assurances to the contrary, 4.5gm of tracking force *does* make me nervous about record wear and damage. Aren't cheap Crosleys excoriated for having tracking forces in that range, and are complained about as 'record destroyers'?

I hope this comment does not inspire Herb to review and love a Crosley now, LOL. =]


EddyBoy's picture

Herb ET all, In the last 2 months I decided to start playing my LPs again. My old AR The Turntable has speed (motor) , spring , belt issues and to fix it up would be expensive. I decided on new. As a long time subscriber I read the April issue and found Pioneer's PLX-1000 a $$$ Class C. I read the full Gramaphone Dreams and was intrigued I got a 17% off coupon from Musicians Friend and I bit. I also bit on Audio Technica's retrip/replace for my old AT OC/9 and traded it in on a brand new OC/9MLII. Tried to mount it on the new Jelco HS-20 headshell, too heavy. Needed sub weight. Sub weight threads didn't bite. Pioneer said send it back. MF took it back & paid for shipping, but couldn't guarantee a new one for perhaps 3 weeks. Have a Guitar Center in the Twin Cities they had a new one and matched my MF price. Brought new one home mounted OC/9II/HS-20 turn on switch hear a turn on spike then it settles into a hum in my left channel. Replace my Audio Quest cables from TT to also new Van Alstine Vision Q (a great Phono Pre BTW) and into my Adcom GFP-750 with new wires that came with PLX-1000, and some other non directional wires (at Frank Van Alstine's suggestion) same issue. Wrote Pioneer again. They said PLX01000 #2 was defective with ground hum, exchange it. Which I did. Took new one home set it up, pluggted in the OC/9II/Jelco to the tone arm. Turn on hear the spike and then the hum. I also have an brand new old Adcom High Out put Cross Coil. I mounted in the stock Pioneer Headshell which I used during the OC/9 trade. It hums too. reversed RCAs on back of PLX-1000 now the right speaker hums not the left. Hum is the same with ground wire securely attach or off. Tried 3 different AC plugs...same spike & hum. Bypassed my Adcom line conditioner direct into wall plug...same spike & hum. Tried a three to two prong grey ground lifter (a handy device us professional musicians often rely on to take the hum out of our PAs) ...same spike & hum. The left speaker is 4 or 5 inches away from the PLX-1000 but when I reversed the RCAs the hum totally went to the right KEF Reference 3.2. I spent 35 years selling hifi including being the national sales rep for a fetus called Boulder Amplifiers in the mid 1980s. I've sold & and installed thousands of Turntables and cartridges into Hifi systems of many price ranges sans the absolutely insain jewelers systems often reviewed in Stereophile. So I am no idot when it comes to these things. San the hum the PLX-1000/OC/9II/Van Alstine Vision Q etc, can actually put musicians in my living room. And being a life long musician including now making my living thus, I know what real musicians making real music sounds like especially when someone isn't humming in the back ground. Herb you don't mention any turnon spike or hum problems in your review or follow up. It's not what I've read much about online, though the guy from Pioneer DJ has indicated that this was not intended as an Audiophile product and DJs aren't all that concerned about hum that could never bee heard. He gave me a suggestion of raising the tone arm height 3mm because that worked for an owner of a PLX-500 with the same issue. I really wan to keep this thing because it is a real value, but only if it's humming isn't masking the fine detail and resolution. Herb..anybody...any thoughts or insights? Please.

EddyBoy's picture

FYI, I just replaced my brand new PLX-1000 with my old AR The Turntable with my Adcom Cross Coil mounted & hooked up in my system. Absolutely NO turn on spike and positively no hum in either the left or right speaker. Even with the volume turned way louder than on my PLX-1000. So it has to be the PLX-1000 turntable humming from the left channel this is very illuminating and disappointing. I am relieved and bummed. Is there a fix for this? I am thinking it's poor internal grounding, and maybe we're picking up the lights buzzing. Is there any hope? Do I try another PLX-1000 or move on & chalk it up to a bit of a waste of time, but not a waste of money because I can return it for full credit to Guitar Center?